Portland High School students offer kids online safety tips

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PORTLAND — On Friday afternoon, Abram Marr donned a homemade paper crown, picked up a large sword made out of something that looked like duct tape and took his mark about eight paces behind Carissa Porcaro.

On the 14-year-old Marr’s crown was written: “King of Creeps.”

The 16-year-old Porcaro, who was seated cross-legged on the floor in front of a group of fifth-graders at Reiche Elementary School, pretended to type on an invisible laptop computer.

It quickly became evident she was pretending to set up a Facebook page. She entered her full name, home street address and telephone number.

Once the information was entered, the King of Creeps got excited and sent a friend request to Porcaro, which she accepted, even though she had no idea who he was.

Once the request was accepted, the creep jumped up from his position and attacked Porcaro from behind. A brief battle ensured before being broken up by 14-year-old Alli Briggs, who delivered the moral:

Don’t let this happen to you. Be careful what you post online.

The skit was one of several ways a group of Portland High School students tried to teach fifth graders at Reiche Elementary School about Internet safety.

The permeation of technology, especially social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, have created a tremendous opportunity for people to voice their opinions and stay connected with friends and family.

But those opportunities come with their own set of dangers.

PHS computer skills teachers Susie Nick and Elizabeth Koharian said fifth graders were targeted because they will be getting school-issued laptops next year in middle school, which will open many of them up to a whole new digital world.

“They are just on the cusp of getting more connected to the digital world,” Nick said.

Although the Internet is frequently likened to a virtual world, it carries some very real dangers.

Tim Ferris, a senior lead officer for Portland Police, said this week that two teenage girls living in the Riverton neighborhood were lured away from their home by a predator who befriended them on Facebook.

Ferris said a 30-year-old man drove to Maine from Pennsylvania to pick up the girls at around midnight on Jan. 3. Knowing the girls spent a lot of time online, officers traced them to York, Pa., where they were recovered unharmed.

Ferris said no charges were filed because the girls, ages 15 and 17, went with the man willingly. But the department has stepped up its efforts to educate kids and parents alike.

“That’s one of the things with Facebook. A lot of young people don’t identify the dangers of it,” Ferris said. “Luckily we got to those girls within 24 hours. If anything were to happen to those girls, we got there before it did.”

In 2008, photos posted online of Deering High School baseball players drinking beer at a coach’s house after winning the state championship led to the dismissal of two coaches and the resignation of a longtime successful head coach.

Koharian, meanwhile, told Reiche students on Friday the Internet presents dangers that many parents are unaware of.

“When I was in middle school, we didn’t have the Internet,” Koharian said. “We didn’t have Facebook, so we didn’t have to worry about the dangers.”

It seems they are reaching the students at the right time. Two of the five 10- and 11-year-olds in the Marr, Porcaro and Briggs group said they already had Facebook pages.

Marr, Porcaro and Briggs presented the students with brochure about ways to stay safe on the Internet.

The most important pieces of advice were to not put detailed information, such as your home address or phone number, online and never accept a friend request from a stranger.

“Don’t add people you don’t know,” Porcaro said. “Go tell an adult.”

While posting too much information can put kids in physical danger, there is an even greater likelihood that students hurt their job prospects later in life or may be embarrassed by things they post online.

Koharian emphasized to students that once something is posted online, it is there forever, logged into a digital archive, regardless of whether it has been deleted or not.

As such, Porcaro offered this advice.

“Always think about what you’re posting,” she said. “Make sure if a parent reads it, you’d be OK with it.”

Marr had one more word of warning – and confession – before leaving the group.

“Facebook is pretty addicting,” he said. “I’m addicted to Facebook.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

Sidebar Elements

(L-R) Portland High School freshmen Abram Marr, 14, Alli Briggs, 14, and sophomore Carissa Porcaro, 16, perform a skit on Friday designed to teach Internet safety to fifth graders at Reiche Elementary School in Portland.